Jacob LoveLess eT aL.’s ar- ticle “Online Algorithms in High-Frequency Trading” (Oct. 2013) is an example of potentially valuable research misdirected. Ask any proponent of free-enterprise economics to
explain its merits, and you will likely
hear two themes: Profit motivates,
and profit accrues by producing and
selling valuable goods and services.
The first buys the producer a bigger
piece of the pie; the second increases the total size of the pie, thus raising, at least on average, the economic status of all. It works, most of the
time, quite well.
Unfortunately, there are also many
ways to profit while producing grossly
inadequate, zero, or even negative
economic value. Some of us are drawn
to such schemes, so much so they
work much more diligently at them
than at a productive enterprise. To the
extent this happens, free enterprise is
undermined. Like printing counterfeit money, it works only if a minority
does it, and even then, at the expense
of everyone else.
Among the most serious such non-value-producing profit schemes is
speculating in zero-sum derivative
markets that produce no economic
value at all, managing only to shuffle
cash between winners and losers. Millisecond trading is just an escalation
in vying for money this way. Even in financial markets like common stocks,
where the original purpose is investment, and that do contribute to producing value, trading at sub-second
time intervals is pure speculation or
worse, as genuine investors could collectively be net losers to speculators.
Putting effort into developing and using more successful speculation strategies is like going to a potluck dinner
but bringing no food, just a bigger
plate, while pushing more aggressively toward the front of the line.
Online and one-pass algorithm
research can surely be redirected to-
ward value-producing applications
(such as robotics) where they can do
more than just seize profits at some-
one else’s expense.
Rodney M. Bates, strong City, Ks
Put thrills in everyday Products, too
As a user experience (UX) researcher,
I took note of Steve Benford et al.’s article “Uncomfortable User Experience”
(Sept. 2013) on designing discomfort
into users’ experience with technology.
I appreciated Benford et al.’s interest
in the framework of Freytag’s pyramid
and their examples of physical experience (such as amusement park rides
and breathing exercises) but was left
with questions about applying these
ideas to the commercial HCI, particularly the UX, realm.
I venture to say the majority of UX
designers reading Communications
design hardware or software, not just
for entertainment but for educational
and productivity purposes. In any domain, UX designers are always looking for new interaction methods on
mobile devices, ways to “gamify” tasks,
or unique interactions that make their
brands more desirable, popular, and
memorable. For me, Benford et al.
started down an interesting new path
but stopped short of defining a clear
link between these tactics and the kind
of HCI work most developers do, which
is probably more cognitive than physical. Could these tactics work for us?
For example, Benford et al. reminded us of interface innovator Ben Shnei-derman’s guideline that the locus of
control should remain with the user,
suggesting “distorting this relationship” would only generate discomfort.
Moreover, Benford et al.’s examples
were physical: thrill ride, walking tour,
performance audience member. But
this would seem to have been the perfect place to explore possibilities in everyday software development. If in your
next mobile app project you wanted to
build in a “thrill” for user sociality or
enlightenment, how would it work?
Benford et al. certainly inspired un-
conventional thinking, but I was left
wanting acknowledgment there is a
place for uncomfortable user experi-
ence in everyday products as well.
elise Lind, Portland, oR
survival vs. Reflection in education
Karen A. Frenkel’s news story “CS En-
rollments Rise… at the Expense of the
Humanities?” (Dec. 2013) reminded
me why the trend toward computer sci-
ence does not diminish the value of a
well-rounded education or the humani-
ties in general, even as it identified two
aspects of the humanities making them
less desirable than computing and IT
in today’s academic environment:
Bias. The humanities have become
politicized to the point they often seem
intended to put the agendas of tenured
faculty or intellectual movement ahead
of students’ interests. Such bias plagues
all traditional academic disciplines but
is disproportionate in the humanities.
Moreover, there is often no objective,
measurable, or quantifiable way to as-
sess opinions, short of a professor’s
publishing history, while schools of
thought splinter into factions; see, for
example, literary criticism; and
Employment. Getting a job with just a
degree in the humanities, even in teach-
ing, is a challenge. I know; as an under-
grad I studied comparative French and
German literature. Granted, humanities
graduates may write well and make per-
suasive arguments, but so do IT work-
ers and programmers. I fault academic
institutions more than students for ig-
noring the employment implications
of their programs, including the skills
the economy demands and employers
pay for; my college did not, for exam-
ple, offer accounting…on ideological
grounds. Humanities professors com-
fortable within their intellectual mi-
crocosms should reassess their role in
today’s academic climate and help their
students learn the skills they need to
create and survive, not just reflect.
Dimitri Darras, sterling, vA
Communications welcomes your opinion. to submit a
Letter to the editor, please limit yourself to 500 words or
less, and send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2014 aCM 0001-0782/14/02 $15.00
Contribute More than algorithmic speculation